“I’M GLAD YOU ASKED!” (THIRTEENTH IN A SERIES)
Pastors Answer Frequently-Asked Questions
Anytime someone asks, “Is so-and-so saved?” it is vital that our answer make clear what we mean by the word saved. When the Son of God sacrificed His perfect life on the cross, He provided complete atonement for the sins of every sinner of all time. All people have been justified in God’s sight by that act of sacrificial love. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:28). This truth is foundational to the Gospel!
What we are really asking about with this question is final salvation, or whether someone who commits suicide will enter heaven on Judgment Day. In other words, does such a person die in the Lord and receive the blessings of Christ’s sacrifice, or has he thrown them away through unbelief?
To refine our question even further, we are really only asking this in the case of a child of God—someone who, to the best of our knowledge, has been a believer up to the time of committing suicide. Someone who is an unbeliever will be lost eternally—not specifically because of the suicide, but rather because without Christ there is no salvation (see Acts 4:12).
The difficult question arises when a confessing child of God takes his own life. Did he fall from the faith? Is his final act a damning sin that negates all else?
Equipped with the Gospel, we
have the privilege of bringing soothing medicine and
strength to someone who
is struggling in crisis.
Suicide is a deliberate act of self-destruction. This is true whether it is an assisted suicide of someone who is terminally ill, a distraught teen, or any other condition. Regardless of cause or circumstance, taking one’s own life is a sin, plain and simple. There is no circumstance when this is not true.
It is also true that suicide carries no greater guilt than any other sin, nor is it a sin for which Jesus did not die. If that were true, then Christ’s redemption would not be complete or universal. While unbelief may lead someone to suicide, the converse is not true, namely, that suicide is automatically a mark of unbelief. Suicide, like all sins, comes from the heart (Matthew 15:19), and children of God retain that sinful heart even after putting on “the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
This means we can simplify the question to this: Can a child of God enter eternal life if he dies while sinning—whether suicide or any other sin?
As children of God, we maintain an ongoing struggle against our flesh (see Romans 7). A child of God does not become immune to sin, temptation, the assaults of mental illness, emotional distress, confusion, or even suicidal thoughts prompted by medications prescribed for other conditions. If, in weakness, a child of God succumbs to any of these tribulations and commits suicide, it doesn’t automatically mean he has fallen from grace and is lost eternally. As believers we stand in God’s grace (see Romans 5:1-2) and through faith receive ongoing forgiveness while standing in that grace.
This does not diminish sin, nor the grave spiritual danger of suicide. Rather, it reveals the magnitude of God’s grace which, amazingly, abounds even more than sin (see Romans 5:20). Nor do we have license to despise God’s grace as if there were no consequence to sin and no reason to refrain from it. Such despising of grace is a sign of unbelief. Paul writes, “What then: Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:15). Those sins that are committed willfully—with forethought, intent and planning—present an especially grave risk to a believer’s faith. This is also true as it applies to the sin of ending one’s own time of grace.
Suicide is such a tragic sin, not because it carries more guilt than another, but because of its earthly consequence. Like any other murder, suicide ends a soul’s time of grace—the time on earth in which a person can be brought to
faith as well as share the Gospel with others.
A word of caution: when we speak of someone’s eternal condition, it is important that we be careful not to say more than we know. We base such conclusions on the individual’s confession; ultimately, however, we recognize that only God knows the heart and those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19). So in cases such as the suicide of a person who confessed the Christian faith, we are served well by remembering our limitations and exercising care to not declare things we cannot know with certainty.
It has been said that suicide is not so much the desire to die as it is the fear of living. For anyone who is struggling with the fear of living, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the promises of God are a comfort to chase away the fear. Equipped with the Gospel, we have the privilege of bringing soothing medicine and strength to someone who is struggling in crisis. Develop a list of Gospel passages to have “at the ready” to share with others.
The rise of the suicide rate in our society may well be due to a general devaluing of life, and also to the deep spiritual darkness in which so many walk, as well as to an earthly focus with an absence of God’s Truth. A misunderstanding of God’s purpose for life can leave a person contemplating suicide as a solution to despair, pain, grief, or hopelessness. All of this cannot but threaten to influence believers as well. There is a great need for the lamp of God’s Truth to light the way. We can bear
If someone you know is struggling with “fear of living,” seek to shore up what is weak and strengthen them. If you are the one struggling, seek counsel and help. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, don’t hesitate to enlist the help of others—your pastor, mental health professionals and, if necessary, law enforcement.
Your pastor is an excellent resource for encouragement and assistance to help you encourage others.
Wayne Eichstadt is pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Spokane Valley, Washington.
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